American Rust by Philipp Meyer
Finished: Jan. 21, 2009
First Published: Feb 24, 2009
Genre: literary fiction
Reason for Reading: received a review copy from the publisher.
Isaac's mother was dead five years but he hadn't stopped thinking about her.
Comments: Set in a small dying former steel mill town in Pennsylvania, this is the story of two young men (20yrs old). Issac, who is called the smartest person in town except for maybe his sister and had been expected to go straight to college after high school. But his mother dies, his father is in a crippling accident at work and his sister leaves for an ivy league school 3 months after their mother's death, leaving him to stay with his father. The other is Poe, the legendary high school football player who could have gotten a football scholarship to any college but had always been a bad apple and had no interest in doing any more school, even if it was on a scholarship.
These two boys are strangely enough best friends, each other's only real friend to be exact and one day there lives and those around them are changed forever. Within the first chapter Issac decides he's hung around long enough, takes his father's four thousand dollars of savings and leaves to head to California to go to school. Along the way he meets Poe who doesn't want to come with him, but agrees to walk to the city limits with him. They spend the night in the abandoned steel mill and three homeless men arrive. Issac knows this is not going to be good and he tries to get Poe's attention and says he's going out for a leak. Poe knows what Issac is up to but he's in the mood for a fight. Issac hears a scream, some thuds and more noises that sound like Poe. He enters through the back door to find his friend, Poe, being held at knife point while another man is obviously about to go at him. Isaac picks up a large iron ball bearing and pitches it across the room hitting the man square in the face and obviously killing him. This is how the story opens.
The book is told in a third person omnipotent point of view with each chapter coming from a selection of different character's view point: the two boys, Isaac's sister, Poe's mom, the chief of police and occasionally Isaac's father. The narrative takes a little getting used to as it feels strange to jump from one person's head to another's but it doesn't take long to get used too as this is a page-turner from chapter one onwards. The writing is a delight to read, the characters become very real to the reader and the story of the lives and thoughts of these people in a dead-end situation all around is very compelling. These people do not lead happy lives and the book is somewhat raw in it's telling but that only makes the characters more real. It is not ultimately a sad story though, as the characters learn about hope, love, friendship and redemption. I honestly didn't know whether this was going to be a book I'd like but I have to say it's the best book I've read this month.
I know it's only January but I'll be holding the other books I read this year up to this one as I choose my favourites of the year. Recommended!